TMJ disorders cause tenderness and pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) — the joint on each side of your head in front of your ears, where your lower jawbone meets your skull. This joint allows you to talk, chew and yawn.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, 5-15% of people in the United States experience pain associated with TMJ disorders. Women between the ages of 30 and 50 are more likely to suffer from TMJ disorders than men.
Many times, pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders can be relieved with self-managed care or nonsurgical treatments, however more-severe cases may need to be treated with dental or surgical interventions.
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions, making it one of the most complex joints in the body. When you talk, chew or yawn, the lower jaw has rounded ends that glide in and out of the joint socket. Cartilage covers the parts of the bones that interact in the joint. The bones are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which keeps the movement smooth.
Possible causes of TMJ disorders:
Oftentimes, the cause of TMJ symptoms isn't clear.
Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders may include:
Other symptoms associated with TMJ disorders may include a clicking sound or grating sensation when you open your mouth or chew. If there's no pain or limitation of movement associated with your jaw clicking, you probably don't have a TMJ disorder.
If you have persistent pain or tenderness in your TMJ, if you have facial pain and experience clicking or grating when you chew or move your jaw, or if you can't open or close your jaw completely, seek medical attention.
Depending on your symptoms, it may be necessary to be examined by more than one medical specialty in order to diagnose TMJ pain and symptoms. Possible specialties may include your primary care provider, a dentist, or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor. Some dentists specialize in TMJ diagnosis and treatment.
An examination may involve:
The results of the physical examination may appear normal, in some cases.
Simple, gentle therapies are usually recommended first. If those don't work, mouth guards and more aggressive treatments may be considered. Surgery is generally considered a last resort. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take at home long before that point.
Home treatment. Start with massaging the various muscles that may be involved. Explore all of the muscles of the face, shoulders, and back of the neck. (Avoid the area around the throat.) Press on the muscles to identify extremely painful points. Massage the painful spot with hard, slow, short strokes. Do this several times a day until the muscle is no longer painful when pressed.
Here are some other steps to consider:
Other home-care therapies are useful for some people, such as moist heat or cold packs on the face, vitamin supplements, or biofeedback. Incorporating regular exercise into your schedule may help you relax, strengthen your body, increase flexibility, and increase your pain threshold.
In some cases, the symptoms of TMJ disorders may go away without treatment. If your symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend medications or a bite guard to help keep you from grinding your teeth at night. In very rare cases, surgery may be required to repair or replace the joint.